Raleigh, N.C. — A controversial bill to freeze the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard is on a fast track to the Senate floor despite an unclear vote from the Senate Finance Committee.
Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, announced during Wednesday’s meeting that members and public commenters were to restrict their comments to the first part of House Bill 332, a section that would make it easier for utilities to recoup costs to extend natural gas pipelines to large customers.
Rucho said there would be no debate on the REPS section of the bill, which was added to it without notice Tuesday in the Senate Commerce Committee at the behest of House Majority Leader Mike Hager, a former utility executive.
Rucho bent that ruling to allow an amendment by Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, to aid renewable energy projects using swine and poultry waste. But other amendments were not entertained, even though members were told in Tuesday's meeting they would have “a second bite” at the REPS section in Finance.
Four members of the public who had come to speak to the committee about the REPS freeze – two for it and two against – declined to comment when told they could speak only about the gas pipeline section.
Before the committee voted, Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, asked Rucho for “division” – a show of hands to be counted, rather than a voice vote. Under Senate rules, committee chairs must honor that request by asking whether the committee supports the call, and if one-fifth of the members present agree, the vote must be counted.
Instead, Rucho called for a voice vote, claiming it as his prerogative as chairman.
The voice vote of “no” was louder than the “ayes,” but Rucho declared the bill had passed and adjourned the meeting, leaving even some Republican committee members shaking their heads.
It was eerily reminiscent of a May 2013 meeting of the same committee considering a similar bill to repeal the REPS bill. Then-chairman Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, also ignored calls for division and pronounced the bill passed, despite a voice vote that indicated it had not. WRAL News followed up with committee members in that case and confirmed the bill had failed.
Backers of renewable energy say the measure will undercut the booming solar industry and cost jobs in North Carolina. But supporters of the freeze, including conservative think-tanks Americans for Prosperity and the John Locke Foundation, say the solar industry has already received too much taxpayer support and should be required to compete without tax credits and other government assistance.